RFD-TV ‘devastated’ to lose rodeo broadcast rights

The owner of a TV network that covers Western and cowboy lifestyles is baffled by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s decision to pick CBS Sports Network over his network to broadcast the Las Vegas-based National Finals Rodeo.

Patrick Gottsch, founder and chairman of Omaha, Neb.-based RFD-TV, said he offered $1 million to the PRCA for the broadcast rights for the NFR, considered the Super Bowl of rodeos. Gottsch said RFD-TV planned to broadcast 200 hours of PRCA content such as the NFR and other PRCA “Champions Challenge” events to 65 million homes.

Instead, the PRCA announced this month that it will pay CBS Sports Network to broadcast 48 hours of the NFR and other Champions rodeo events in 2014 and 2015. The CBS Sports Network’s website said it’s available to 96 million homes, but Gottsch disagreed and said the CBS Sports Network’s reach is 53 million homes.

Gottsch learned RFD-TV’s bid was rejected on Dec. 10 when PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman announced during the 10-day NFR in Las Vegas that CBS Sports would broadcast the prized rodeo event, taking the reins from the Great American Country network.

With the PRCA considering moving the NFR from Las Vegas to central Florida in 2015 because of a more lucrative proposal from Osceola County, Gottsch can’t understand why the PRCA would not accept a $1 million-a-year broadcast deal and instead choose a TV deal that requires the PRCA to pay for the event’s broadcast.

“We really wanted it. We knew no one was paying (for the rights). It’s so confusing,” Gottsch said. “We were devastated. It was a very curious decision.”

During the Dec. 10 NFR news conference, Stressman said the PRCA would be responsible for paying CBS Sports Network to broadcast the NFR and other PRCA Champions Challenge rodeos. He did not specify how much PRCA will have to pay. Former PRCA board member Bob Thain said that when ESPN televised the NFR in past years, the PRCA was responsible for covering the production costs.

Gottsch said he spent two years assembling a business plan in hopes of acquiring the NFR broadcast rights.

Gottsch said he bought FamilyNet for $40 million in 2012 so that his Rural Media Group company, which includes RFD-TV, could broadcast PRCA events to urban markets in big cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

Then in July, he bought Rural Radio, Channel 80 on SiriusXM, to broadcast rodeo and country lifetsyle programming on the radio.

And this month, RFD-TV made its debut at the NFR in Las Vegas and televised six hours of rodeo-related activities such as watch parties, buckle ceremonies and pageants every day.

Gottsch said Stressman informed him that Wrangler — a major PRCA sponsor — blocked the RFD-TV bid. Stressman could not be reached for comment.

Gottsch said he was also prepared to use his RFD-TV to serve as an unofficial western sports channel to grow rodeo around the country.

Alan Snel can be contacted at asnel@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5273. Follow Snel on Twitter at @BicycleManSnel.